“The Search for Hope without Control”
The title of this post is a quote from the most recent entry on the Dark Mountain Project’s Blog. Dougald Hine’s conversation with David Abram is a treat to watch and a treasure trove of insight. You’ll have to see the video to find out which one of them made this statement. I didn’t keep track in my notes. One of the wonders this kind of conversation brings us is the way its “results,” its language and the insights held within its light touch, are shared and seem to shimmer in the air between the conversants. This is so unlike the points and digs and barbs clunking to the ground to pile up at the feet of debaters as spoils in some polemic battle.
It strikes me that it is only in our time that so much emphasis must be placed on the distinction between hope and wishing. Most people living at almost any other time knew, and will know, that hope has nothing to do with control. Desire seeking its fulfillment by grasping at control is the definition of wishing. Hope has been tied to an intersection between the human and the truly divine. Wishing has always been connected with stories of djinns and the lesser divinities with whom we want to enter into bargains, pleading for their intercession.
Imaginations have shriveled today when faced with the question of hope. A similar dynamic can be found in the lame confusion – a willful misunderstanding – between less and fewer. The distinction between integrated quantity and aggregated amount has been brought into doubt and finally overwhelmed, creating a willed ignorance held with a combination of unease and pride. As with the current attitude towards security where security is evoked as a talisman of “pure goodness” over “evil;” discussion is couched and limited to a binary opposition ignoring any responsibility for tempering its absolutist demands with other values. Certain privileged categories of risk are held in keening awe within a ritual of human sacrifice in which the surrender of one’s life – played out in creeping authoritarian encroachment or in bursts of institutional or individual self-immolation, replace any nuanced view or measured response.
In a similar way hope has degraded into a synonym for wishing. Its goal has withered. It went from an aspiration to find enough space and time in which to live meaningfully on to the demand as a “right” of a “pursuit of happiness” which has now come to stand for the tyranny of undifferentiated unmediated whim. This devolved “hope” is measured on a scale marked optimism and pessimism. All is gained by maintaining optimism – the “winners” attitude – at whatever cost while the last taboo is against any admission of pessimism – the skulking refuge of the “loser.”
In their conversation Dougald and David go on to examine the implications of our fixation on “The Future.” This accident of history, a conflation of Protestant millennialism with the Capitalist recasting of the sin of usury as the “virtue” of interest, is an “efficient” mechanism for the accelerating destruction and alienation we experience as they impinge on our world, the other, and ourselves. This has gone on at the same time as our abilities to resolve our animal unease and disquiet at this violence has been displaced onto a future that forever recedes, always just beyond reach. “The Future” is where optimism reigns supreme, pessimism is banished, and our wished for arrival at an ungrounded nowhere – Utopia – will finally be celebrated.
We are caught in the onrushing momentum of destruction, alienation, and unease. All of the various sects and isms we are accustomed to believing in or holding at arm’s length as “The Other” fall equally under this spell. This energy, this urgency, picks us up and carries us along bodily. Many channel their disquiet into maintaining phantom divisions; setting up straw-men, and looking for scapegoats when they aren’t simply exhausted by the effort of maintaining “optimism” by a prodigious expense of energy; human attention and chemical fuel squandered to maintain the spectacle.
Dougald and David go on to say that,
“Grief is a threshold.”
This simple statement may describe the barrier that guides us to our doom. In Shoal Hope I explain the workings of the old fish traps that ringed Cape Cod Bay until my youth. Its parts were labelled in telling language. The nets of the “leader” and the “bowl” diverted fish from their accustomed flow and sent them circling into the “heart” to await their fate. In a similar way our fear in face of the inevitability of grief, precludes any possibility that we see that grief is essential if we are to find an opening into caring, love, joy, and engagement. Our animal selves trapped, await destruction, as an uneasy circling is punctuated by false calms and frenzied panics.
We teeter on the edge. Our unease assaulted by increasing evidence of the consequences of what has been done in our name. We shudder at the Enormity of grief our “bargain” exposes us to. We arrive at this point with our capacities for engagement atrophied by alienation. This blinds us to any potential on the other side of this chasm we imagine to be limitless. This may be why the few who have stumbled across this barrier have histories of trauma and abuse in their lives. They have experienced the binds and torments from an early age and have somehow come to grips with their experiences. This has given them the foundation of a place to stand in relation to this greater bind and its existential torment.
Robert Valentijn recently wrote that depression is the way our bodies signal the need for profound changes that require a high short-term cost to be paid for their fulfillment. Our demonization of unease, the pathologification of depression, sent to join the myriad of real and imagined ills that serve as profit centers for the “health care industry” has shut down our progression from imbalance to depression and on to re-integration. This has left many of us on the brink, too drugged and defeated to do anything but deny our “sinful” pessimism and counterfeit a superficial optimism whose futility leaves us secretly wishing for Apocalypse to deliver us into the death we are so afraid to confront yet so actively court.
Our human landscape is littered with the wreckage. Dougald and David exhibit a calm joyfulness as they inhabit their bodies and revel in the present/presence that surrounds and infuses them as they converse. This is so different from the false quiet in the eyes of those who have gone “over the brink.” Those who’ve decided to end it all in the group-nihilism of a cult or with the naked vengeance of suicide. An attitude of corrosive skepticism guards so many of us from the necessity to confront our predicament. This simple joy they partake in, their immersion in the moment, and the grace out of which insight and experience coalesce; emerge out of their engagement with the present. This is not a surrender.
They describe the present as a,
“vast accommodating, hospitability with inexhaustible depths opening onto a horizon beyond which we cannot see.”
These joys expand outwards on the other side of grief and the acceptance of death’s inevitability. They prepare a ground on which we can stand, the present can be seen as a place, a someplace full of specificity as opposed to the numb fantasies of no-place, Utopia.
“The future bubbles out of the present in ways we cannot predict, nor control.”
“If I am really here, I have to improvise.”
One of them said.
Then David, this one time I can attribute this quote without referring back to the video, said,
“My words… drawn out of my mouth by your ears.”
Life itself, our lives as we live them if we choose to open ourselves to the present, are likewise drawn out of our selves by the senses of those around us in an intricate dance with our own sensory appreciation of all that surrounds us.
Grace is an effortlessness filling that which we were afraid was empty. Our confrontation with grace is an experience of boundlessness and plenty, a sufficiency beyond the terrors and appetites of demand. Grace overflows our neediness with a fullness outside of measure or quantification.
Grace awaits on the other side of grief and the pathologies of alienation in a universe in which diminishment does not miraculously disappear, but where it is compensated by the promise and fulfillment available to us if we are willing to see.
An engagement with the world, short-circuited by our fear of the grief it exposes us to, is perversely seen as a surrender to pessimism. Those of us asking that we all look clearly at what is at stake, what is being bargained away so that we can maintain our willful desire for control, are labelled “Doomers.” While those who careen towards a doom of their own making are thought of as “realists” and “pragmatists.” We often abet this confusion when we focus on forcing the consequences onto people without showing them the other side. This simple conversation on a greensward, immersed in the rushing of the wind through the trees, embodies – as it describes – not only what’s at stake, but what is available to us, a promise of a grace and a belonging, an entry into a world of sufficiency beyond our traps of endless empty appetite.